Drinkaware and PHE have launched a campaign, Drink Free Days, to help increase awareness of the benefits of abstaining from alcohol on several days per week.

The online tool published as part of the campaign helps people to see how their drinking compares to the UK population.

Last month, a study published in the Lancet said there was no safe level of alcohol consumption; effectively dispelling for good the widely held notion that a glass of wine a day has certain health benefits.

Who is the campaign aimed at?

People of any age, from 18 and up, will benefit from the recommendations being encouraged by the campaign. But it’s thought that people who drink regularly (as in every day or nearly every day) will stand to benefit the most; and it’s the 45-65 age group who tend to be more habitual daily drinkers.

Data from HSE suggests that people aged 45-64 are more likely than other age groups to be drinking more than 14 units per week.

Professor Julia Verne from Public Health England noted that people in this age group don’t generally consume alcohol every day with the intention to get drunk; that it tends more to be seen among middle-aged people as a social convention, or a reward for a day at work.

Many people had told PHE, Professor Verne also commented, that they found not drinking alcohol on a given day was much easier to do than cutting down (for example replacing a large glass of wine with a small one).

According to a YouGov poll, published earlier this year and backed by PHE and Drinkaware, just under 21 percent of the 8,906 adults surveyed were drinking over the lower risk guidelines of 14 units per week. Around 2 out of 3 people surveyed said they found reducing their alcohol intake harder to do than sticking to a diet, increasing the amount of exercise they do, or quitting smoking.

What are the benefits of alcohol free days?

There are thought to be several, both short and long-term.

For example, when we drink alcohol, it’s the liver’s job to process it. The more someone drinks, the harder their liver has to work. Refraining from drinking alcohol for a whole day gives the liver a chance to recuperate.  

Alcohol, even when consumed in small amounts, can also have a negative impact on sleep. This is because alcohol encourages the body to go into a deep sleep quickly; which means the body will come out of the deeper stages of sleep sooner than it would normally. This disrupts regular sleep patterns, and means that we’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to get back to sleep.

So not drinking alcohol for a day can also help us to avoid this, and facilitate better sleep.

Observing alcohol free days can also help to reduce overall calorie intake. For instance, a pint of beer or a large glass of wine can contain around 200 calories.

(Read more about how many calories different alcoholic drinks contain.)

And of course in the long term, drinking less alcohol can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and various types of cancer.

What are the current recommendations on alcohol?

There is no ‘safe’ or ‘recommended’ level of alcohol intake. Since 2016, the guidelines have been that:

  • adults (men and women) should not drink more than 14 units per week on a regular basis, in order to limit their risk of developing alcohol-related illnesses;
  • where someone does drink 14 units per week, consumption should be spaced out over at least three days;
  • and that adults should go alcohol-free for several days every week.

Typically, there are one and a half units in a small glass of wine, and three units in a large glass.

There are usually around two units in pint of 3.6% beer, and three in a pint of stronger beer (5%).

You can read more about the Drink Free Days campaign here.